Sand Tray Therapy in Santa Barbara

Often the hands know how to solve a problem with which the intellect has wrestled in vain.
- Carl Jung

What is Sand Tray Therapy?

Sand Tray Therapy can unlock access to your deeper self
Sand Tray Therapy can unlock access to your deeper self

Sand Tray Therapy is one of the fastest growing psychotherapies because it uniquely allows for access to the innermost core of our being.

In Sand Tray Therapy a client experiences through observable images in the outer world, what is happening in the inner world.

For an adult that often "gets lost" in words, or has difficulty communicating with words, Sand Tray Therapy is a nonverbal medium that creates an opportunity to experience personal existence beyond words and our conscious mind.

The Sand Tray creates a space for personal exploration
The Sand Tray creates a space for personal exploration

The Sand Tray presents a symbolic representation of the world. There are many variations however the tray, filled with sand, is usually 20" X 30" and 3" deep.

The tray is more than a container for the sand. The sand in the tray creates a sacred space for deep personal exploration through the creative placement of a variety of symbolic miniatures into the sand.

Sand Tray psychotherapy creates an experience beyond the ordinary. Most of life is habit and routine. Through Sand Tray Therapy there as an experience beyond the ordinary, or as some clients have described Sand Tray Therapy, "an experience of my deeper self, my soul."

Sand in the tray elicits a safe place to play and create. It allows for play to be purposeful. Play creates an experience of pleasure and joy and exercises a different part of the brain (often referred to as the right hemisphere).

Evolutionary psychologists are studying the relationship between play and higher intelligence, especially in children. Research indicates that play is an essential activity for everyone. Sand Tray allows an adult to play for greater awareness and self understanding.

Sand Tray Therapy is both enjoyable and meaningful.

What is the Origin of Sand Tray Therapy?

Many clients haven't heard about Sand Tray Therapy and wonder where it originated and why it is a psychotherapy. In actuality the practice of Sand Tray Therapy is nearly a hundred years old.

Sand Tray Therapy origins go back to H. G. Wells book,  Floor Games
Sand Tray Therapy origins go back to 1911 H.G. Wells book
Floor Games

Sand Tray Therapy origins go back to the 1911 H.G. Wells book, Floor Games. In Floor Games Wells gives an elaborate description about playing with miniature toys (mostly soldiers) with his sons. He found it extremely illuminating and therapeutic.

Margaret Lownfield in the 1920's, after being inspired by Floor Games, developed the psychotherapeutic approach for children. Sand Tray therapy became a way to evaluate and treat children because it provides a place for children to communicate in a nonverbal manner the important issues affecting their lives.

Sand Tray Therapy led to the development of play therapy for children that has existed until present time. No matter their therapeutic orientation, child therapists typically use nonverbal approaches like Sand Tray Therapy to understand the world of children.

In the 1940's therapists began to see the value of Sand Tray Therapy for adults. Initially the sand tray was used with adults for assessment and to enhance the results of psychological testing.

In the 1960's, utilizing a Jungian perspective, Dora Kalff expanded the use of Sand Tray Therapy to include adults.

A Jungian approach includes the exploration of the unconscious, archetypes, and the belief that our psyche naturally moves towards maximizing our human potential (individuation). From a Jungian perspective Sand Tray Therapy provides an actual experience of the movement toward wholeness.

Another major development in psychology in the 1960's was the development of Humanistic psychology as articulated by Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers developed Person-Centered therapy which views clients of being endowed with an inherent tendency to develop their full potential, especially when provided a supportive and accepting psychotherapeutic environment.

Unlike the Jungian approach, the Person Centered focus is about living in the present, not on exploring the unconscious or the experiences of the past.

From a Humanistic perspective, Sand Tray Therapy provides a healthy environment for making the present more available because awareness is heightened and through the creation in the sand tray the present becomes alive in a very real, emotional and visual way.

In the 1980's Gisela De Domenico created an approach to Sand Tray Therapy that integrated and expanded upon many of the concepts developed by the earlier practitioners mentioned above.

A major focus of the De Domenico approach to Sand Tray Therapy is to use the sand tray as a place to mediate a client's potential for growth with the pressures of the social world. De Domenico asks clients to apply what is learned in sand tray sessions to the problems of daily living.

In the 1980's Estelle Weinrib expanded the use of Sand Tray Therapy to include families, couples, and groups. This development came from her study of various cultures, including Native American culture.

Weinrib noted that many cultures including indigenous tribes use sand as an essential element in their ritual life. Weinrib discovered in her research that the sand paintings of the Navajo tribe were used extensively in their sacred ceremonies for healing of mental, physical and emotional problems.

Clearly the use of sand has played an important role throughout human history for both human development and healing.

The use of sand has played important role in personal healing
The use of sand has played an important role
in personal healing

For centuries Tibetan Monks have created a sand Mandala (symbol of wholeness) which are ritually created and, once completed, destroyed to symbolize the transitory nature of human life.

Today many therapists, from a differing theoretical backgrounds use Sand Tray Therapy in a variety of ways. Sand Tray Therapy can stand alone as it's own unique psychotherapeutic approach. It can also be integrated and adjunctive to talk therapy.

Sand Tray Therapy has a rich history. For almost one hundred years it has provided a very powerful tool for personal growth and healing

The reason for its longevity is that it provides a very powerful and unique psychotherapeutic experience for those who want to deepen their understanding of their personal and social world.

Who Is Appropriate for Sand Tray Therapy?

Sand Tray Therapy is appropriate for all age levels and with individuals, couples, and families.

Sand Tray Therapy is appropriate for clients who have a tendency to get lost in their words (over intellectualize) or clients who have a hard time expressing themselves verbally through words.

Sand Tray Therapy

Sand Tray Therapy is also indicated for individuals who are interested in self exploration and deepening their personal and social understanding of the world.

Sand Tray Therapy can be the primary psychotherapeutic tool or can add and enhance the experience of other treatment approaches.

What Happens During a Sand Tray Session?

These Symbols create us, no less than we create them. Change our symbols, and we change not only our reality, but ourselves.
- Thomas Kelting

Symbols give expression and meaning to the human experience
Symbols give expression and meaning to the human experience

Human beings need symbols. It is hard to imagine a world without symbols. Symbols give expression and meaning to areas of the human experience that are unknown to us.

When we look at a symbol we know there is more "to the story." For an example when we look at Hercules we know he is more than statue. It has a deeper meaning.

When we look at the statue of Hercules it can conjure up all kinds of thoughts and feelings. That's what symbols do - they touch us at a deeper part of ourselves and through that experience we feel something important that connot be put into words.

The Sand Tray room is filled with symbolic representations of life
The Sand Tray room is filled with symbolic representations of life
Sand Tray Therapy - Male Figures
Male Figures
Sand Tray Therapy - Female Figures
Female Figures
You can take a photo of your sand tray to take home
You can take a photo of your sand tray to take home

The Sand Tray room is filled with symbolic representations of life. Various miniature figures are available to inspire the creative imagination.

For example there are various human figures, animals, cultural icons, mythological figures, religious symbols, clowns, athletes, and political figures.

There are also other type of symbols such as buildings, fences, musical instruments, transportation structures, technological symbols and a variety of items used in daily life.

The Sand Tray also "pulls" for images from the earth. Miniatures of flowers, trees, rocks, sea shells, plants and other landscaping materials are available for use in the Sand Tray.

During Sand Tray Therapy session all these miniatures are available in a single room for the creation of a world that comes alive in the tray. The power of the Sand Tray is the realization that the world created externally is also alive inside the life of the creator.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.
- Chinese Proverb

A completed Sand Tray is like a "psychological x-ray"
A completed Sand Tray is like a "psychological x-ray"

The completed Sand Tray is like a "psychological x-ray"- a visual representation of the psychological and social forces currently at play in the world of the creator.

Most clients take pictures of their sand tray to take home (certainly optional but consider bringing a camera, iphone, et al to the session).

Depending on the needs of the client, the completed Sand Tray can be interpreted or left "to speak for itself."

Many clients report that the most powerful aspect of Sand Tray Therapy is the curative experience of doing it which speaks volumes beyond words or interpretation.

Is Sand Tray Therapy Effective? 

Sand Tray Therapy is Effective
Sand Tray Therapy is Effective

The answer is yes because there is empirically based research that has informed best practices in Sand Tray Therapy. However, more evidence-based research is needed in order to confirm that current best practices have indeed been validated and proven effective.

A review of the literature of Sand Tray therapists indicate that Sand Tray Therapy can be effective in a number of areas:

  1. Sand Tray Therapy gives expression to nonverbalized emotional issues which are helpful for people who tend to over intellectualize their experience of the world.

  2. The unique kinesthetic quality of Sand Tray Therapy enhances the sensory experience which "loosens the tongue" and allows to greater verbal expression , especially for clients with communication problems.

  3. Sand Tray Therapy allows for the expression of negative emotions in a "safe container", which assists with problems related to anger, betrayal, and grief.

  4. For those that are survivors of trauma, Sand Tray Therapy provides a safe place to explore the ongoing impact of the traumatic events.

  5. Sand Tray Therapy can assist in diagnostic assessment when other diagnostic tools have proven ineffective.

  6. Through symbol, metaphor, archetype, and myth, Sand Tray Therapy illuminates the importance of creating the life we desire rather than the life others want for us. This experience assists in the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders.

  7. Sand Tray Therapy provides a container for creative thinking which is helpful to exploring problems from differing standpoints. This is esepcially helpful for clients that continue to handle a problem the same way, hoping for a diferent result

  8. Sand is often associated with the unconscious. Sand Tray Therapy creates an environment that illuminates deep and intrapsychic issues and conflicts which are often difficult to bring to consciousness in talk therapy

  9. Sand Tray Therapy naturally provides boundaries and limits which are especially helpful for individuals who let others control their lives. For instance, those with low self esteem and who are overly dependent, passive, and unable to set strong personal and social boundaries.

  10. For individuals with a lifelong serious psychiatric problem, Sand Tray Therapy can provide an experience beyond stigma, diagnosis, and societal ignorance.

  11. For individuals "stuck" in therapy, Sand Tray Therapy can break down resistance and lead to a "break through" in order to move the psychotherapeutic process forward.

  12. For Couples, Sand Tray Therapy can provide a visual perspective on the state of a relationship.

  13. Sand Tray Therapy can be effective with families because it provides a forum to literally "see" how effectively the family system is functioning.

  14. For those that desire an experience beyond the mundane, that want to experience themselves more deeply, Sand Tray Therapy can be effective. This is especially true for clients currently searching to clarify the purpose and meaning of their lives.
Sand Tray Therapy can unlock your mind for practical use in your everyday life
Sand Tray Therapy can unlock your mind for practical use in your everyday life

Not infrequently...(clients) that they consciously carry the image of the sand tray in their minds. They may refocus or reexperience some part ... (of the sand tray)... they have made, or change it, or they may make imaginery new pictures which they often create in reality...
- Estelle Weinrib

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it.
Mary Englebreit

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